Being sick this past week has reminded my of our arrival in Paris over a decade ago. The girls were 5 and 9. One of them had strep throat, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you which one was sick. The French call that being a mère indigne. But the thing is, I had caught a lingering case of pneumonia while doing the expat marathon of shopping for apartments, schools and music teachers earlier in the month. Then I had returned to SF and spent the remaining two weeks packing. To say I was out of it would be like saying the French like cheese.
In addition to our (lack) of health, it was cold outside, with an unusual amount of snow and freezing temperatures plaguing the region and confusing our California internal thermostats. We needed chicken soup and we needed it, like, today.
It was time to buy me a bird. The challenge being that every other time I had visited Paris, I had been a sworn, devout vegetarian. I had had a hard time walking past butcher shops, much less entering them. But Mom-mode took over and I was soon in a local shop asking for a poulet.
“What kind would you like” asked the butcher.
I wasn’t sure I’d understood through my pneumonia induced haze. There were kinds of chickens? I’d had no idea. “Uhh… a dead one?” I hesitated, “and, well, maybe you could take the head off, remove the feet and do something about those feathers? Oh, and, is Madame ok?” There was a lady sniffing quietly in the background.
“I don’t know, nothing fancy, my daughter is sick and I need to make her some chicken soup.”
“Well, you should have said so, you don’t want a poulet, you want a poule!”
I was learning butcher-ese!
Suddenly Madame began to wail hysterically so I went directly to the source and asked her if everything was alright. That was when I learned that butcher’s wives can go somewhat mental when they learn that their adult son is a vegetarian, as madame had learned during lunch earlier that day.
Papa butcher carefully selected the lamest, cheapest bird he could find and started chopping as he explained that soupe au poulet wasn’t really French, that I may find all the chicken fat makes my kid feel worse instead of better, and that I really should consider making a proper vegetable soup. WOW. No wonder his son had become a vegetarian, he wasn’t exactly selling me on my dinner plans.
That evening I looked it up, there are nearly 50 different varieties of chicken in France, and each variety has its particular culinary strengths. Many countries only have one variety, the US has about a dozen, including the now famous Leghorn (bonjour Foghorn!). Only the Germans come anywhere close with 24 different breeds. Which explains so much about the French military reputation (oops, sorry that is VERY unPC)